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If a Buddhist noticed someone trying to severely harm their temple, for example trying to start a fire, how would one expect them to respond?

I could imagine a range of responses from completely ignoring it and continuing about their meditation to compassionately talking with the person to getting themselves and bystanders to safety and planning to rebuild later to carrying the person out of the temple. I know spitting on the statue of Buddha is an example used in teachings but I am wondering about scenarios of lasting harm on the facilities that would make them unusable.

Are there any instructive historical examples where something like this happened?

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    About examples, a similar thing happened to the buddhas of Bamyan in Afghanistan. Even though it spurred reactions from all over the world, I can’t say how the Buddhist community reacted. – Erik Apr 20 '19 at 17:30
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    Notice a Buddhist lay follower is also a law abiding citizen of a country. If s/he sees someone trying to commit arson, a terrible crime with truly gruesome consequences in terms of both lives and materials, s/he needs to immediately report it to the police. – santa100 Apr 20 '19 at 22:36
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This is highly subjective, but practically speaking, If you go to a Buddhist country and try to engage in vandalism, the chances are that the people nearby will beat the living daylights out of you until a monk interferes and calms them down. After that you will be arrested by the police.

It would be a big mistake to think that the average lay Buddhist is meek or timid.

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In one of his talks, Ajahn Brahm recalled that he was once asked by a journalist what he would do if someone flushed a Buddhist holy scripture down the toilet.

Ajahn Brahm replied that he would call the plumber to unclog the pipes of course. That's the practical thing to do. The journalist responded to this with laughter.

In any country, the right thing to do, from the perspective of Buddhism, is first to ensure the safety of human life, then report the incident to the authorities without delay (inclusive of any photo or video evidence if available), and then fix the damages.

The wrong thing to do, from the perspective of Buddhism, is to react with rage and vengeance. However, as Sankha wrote, this might be the typical response of lay Buddhists who are not advanced on the path.

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"Buddhists", at large, regard outwardly and inwardly Dhammas as self and so they react on harm in the many ways beings react if perceiving harm of what is thought to be ones own.

For beings nothing more dear then the self/own, knowing that, one is wise to abstain from harming others or take what they consider as their own.

Maybe worthy to note is that Bhikkhus, although having the duty to care and maintain what belongs to the Sangha, actually have to give this up in cases where destruction and violence would be expected. That's why you have places and sources like you are used to here.

You would have a hard to find anything outwardly which has been not taken over and deprived from the Sangha this days. It's good when all of you reflect a lot of how much and in which ways you probably destruct and harm the temples of the Tripple Gems in you "business as usual".

(Note: this is not given for trade, exchange, stacks and entertainment that keeps one in such but for release)

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